Russia says it is prepared to sever ties with the European Union if the bloc follows through with threats to implement tough new economic sanctions against Moscow over the detention and jailing of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.
Speaking in an interview with the YouTube channel Solovyev Live on February 12, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that if further sanctions are imposed on Russia and they “create risks” to the country’s economy, “then yes,” relations could be broken off.
Lavrov’s comments come a day after diplomatic sources suggested the European Union was likely to impose travel bans and asset freezes — possibly within weeks — on allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We do not want to be isolated from international life, but we must be ready for this. If you want peace, then you should prepare for war,” Lavrov said.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added at a meeting with reporters on February 12 that Moscow had to be ready to provide replacement elements for anything in its vital infrastructure if foreign sanctions called for it.
The 44-year-old Navalny, Putin’s top critic, was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was treated for a nerve-agent poisoning that he says was ordered by Putin, which the Kremlin has denied.
The detention sparked outrage across the country, with tens of thousands of Russians taking to the streets in rallies. Police, in turn, cracked down harshly on the demonstrations, putting many of Navalny’s allies behind bars for the actions, and then detaining thousands more — sometimes violently — as they gathered.
It also prompted condemnation from the United States and the European Union and demands for Navalny’s immediate release and proper investigations into his poisoning in August last year.
In the past week, Russia has expelled several diplomats from EU countries after the Kremlin accused them of participating in the protests. The moves have been matched tit-for-tat by Sweden, Poland, and Germany, which have told Russian diplomats to pack their bags and head home.
The two sides were already at odds over Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and its support for separatist formations waging a war against Kyiv in parts of eastern Ukraine, the EU’s rejection of a disputed presidential election in Belarus and criticism of a brutal crackdown by the government of strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and other issues.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry called Lavrov’s comments on February 12 ” really disconcerting and incomprehensible.”
Moscow has accused the West of hysteria and double standards over Navalny and has accused the United States and others as meddling in Russia’s internal affairs.
Lavrov pushed that theme in the February 12 interview, saying the threats weren’t about Navalny, but a broader course “coordinated by the entire collective West, which goes beyond mere deterrence of Russia and evolves into an aggressive deterrence of Russia.”
“They don’t like us because we have our own idea of what’s going on in the world,” he said.
Jailed anti-corruption campaigner Navalny was back in court on February 12 for his latest legal battle.
Navalny is accused of slandering a World War II veteran who took part in a promotional video in support of last year’s constitutional amendments that cleared the way for Putin to run for two more terms in office after 2024, if he wants.
Meanwhile, Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, flew from Moscow to Frankfurt in a sign that — following her brief detention recently — she might be concerned for her safety amid a sweeping crackdown in Russia on Navalny allies.
German magazine Der Spiegel, citing sources, reported Navalnaya arrived in the country for “private” matters.
A court in Moscow on February 10 ordered the arrest of Leonid Volkov, an exiled ally of Navalny’s, in a move seen as part of an effort by authorities to squelch demonstrations demanding the release of Navalny.
Russian security agents — including one allegedly linked to Navalny’s poisoning — tailed another Kremlin critic, Vladimir Kara-Murza, in the days and weeks before his two near-fatal poisoning illnesses, investigative group Bellingcat said this week in a new report.
Kara-Murza, who lives in suburban Washington, has built strong alliances with senior U.S. lawmakers, believes he was targeted for his support for the U.S. Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law targeting alleged Russian human-rights abusers with sanctions.